I like bikes. Riding them. Looking at them. Talking about them. Wrenching on them. Contemplating which one I’ll buy next. Some years back, I thought about the possibility of completing a century. For the uninitiated, that’s one hundred miles. On a bike. I put it off using every excuse I could think of. I’m not fit enough. I’ll never be fit enough. One hundred miles is so far. Too far. Thankfully, some friends held me accountable and asked repeatedly how training was going. It worked. I completed my first century in 2014.
This got me thinking. What else can I do? I set my sights on long day trips. I set goals to ride from DC to Annapolis, and from DC to Baltimore. While I made the roundtrip journey to Annapolis on a summer day in 2015, I still put off Baltimore. I used much of the same logic I had used prior. It’s too far. I’m not in the best shape. There’s no good route. The route isn’t safe. And it continued.
A co-worker told me about creating routes on Strava, a social fitness tracking site. The creating routes feature allows you to pick two or more points and get the most popular route between them. There are also options to minimize the route’s elevation and to plan the route manually. I looked into it. After exploring different routes to Charm City, I decided that I’d go all in. Baltimore or bust.
Last weekend, I made the trip. There were a few times during the 60+ miles that I questioned my decision making. But none of that was present as I saw the Baltimore skyline in the distance. My route was a nice mixture of trails, back roads, quiet residential streets, and slightly busier streets with wide shoulders. It took around five hours in total (just over four hours of actual moving time). After a delicious Baltimore lunch, I made my way to Penn Station to take the MARC train back to DC. My life and legs weren’t quite ready to ride 60+ miles back. It’s a nice day trip that I’d recommend to anyone considering the opportunity.
Be kind to yourself.
When I was finishing my service in the kingdom of eSwatini, I was applying for jobs. I applied for jobs all over the US and a few abroad. I knew that I would need to eventually work (or do something) to support whatever life I’d have post-Peace Corps. I started a spreadsheet to track all of the jobs I would apply to. I color coded the document to know (at a quick glance) who had replied to me, passed on my skill set, and/or requested an interview.
Throughout my COS trip, I applied to several jobs knowing that I wasn’t planning on returning to the US for a few months. Before I left eSwatini, I had been invited to two interviews. Thankfully, many hiring managers and interviewing staff were extremely gracious and accommodating as I interviewed via telephone or video conference. I am also thankful for fellow travelers I met throughout my COS trip who let me use their laptops and/or Wi-Fi to do these interviews.
Upon returning to DC, I had a few more interviews. This time, in person. It was the first time in more than seven years that I had sat in an interview room as an interviewee. Although I was (and still am) confident in my skill set, the once-again newness of the job search brought on a certain nervousness and uncertainty. Thankfully, DC is home to many RPCVs and a supportive community of friends and family. After connecting with friends of friends and friends to be, there were suggestions and leads to sort through. In hindsight, I’m glad that I met with everyone I did. Not everyone has a job or opportunity to offer; some can connect you to others and grow your network. Not everyone has connections, but maybe they can offer advice on the things they wish they had known when they were in your shoes. There is also value in having an attentive listening ear to give audience to the load of things floating around one’s mind. I found it very helpful to be able to talk through what I wanted and why I wanted it. It was equally as helpful to be asked questions about things that I may not have previously considered. I think that this made for a more refined presentation in job interviews and similar situations.
While I’m not a statistician, I do believe that numbers can be helpful. During this job searching period, I formally applied to 49 jobs including government, private sector, and NGO positions. This does not include various conversations that I may have had that informally discussed an open position and the like. Out of those 49 application submissions, 10 hiring managers let me know that they were passing on the opportunity to work with me. Eight of those 49 hiring managers invited me to an interview. One of those interviews resulted in the interviewing panel passing on my skill set, but they referred me to another team that was possibly interested. That led to another interview. After almost five months of post-service job hunting, I had received two offers. Last month, I started a new position just outside of Washington, DC in a field that I have extremely limited knowledge in. It’s a learning curve and an adjustment, and I’m enjoying it. Every day presents new challenges and new opportunities. For that, I’m thankful.
For those who may be wondering, being an RPCV helped. Having non-competitive eligibility (NCE) helped. Having a resume that shows adaptability, transferable skills, and a decent work history helped. I recognize that everyone has a different journey and experience. Many different things came together for me. It was magical that they came together at the right time. If this process and experience has taught me anything, it’s this: don’t be afraid to ask for help AND don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
Be kind to yourself.
Since I’ve been back in Washington, DC, I’ve ramped up my job search. Days have been spent looking through job sites to match up my skill set and desires to job descriptions. On more fortunate days, I have exchanged emails with hiring managers or representatives from the offices in which I wish to work. Since I’ve returned to DC, I’ve had some face to face interviews. I have also been very fortunate to have networking and career planning opportunities with amazing people. The above photo was taken by Victoria after an interview last week.
Be kind to yourself.
Today marks one month since a flight from Beijing touched down at Dulles International Airport with me on it. It’s been a month of reconnecting with the old familiar and connecting with new folks. A month of rediscovering the city that is the epitome of home. As I reflect on the past month, I figured that I’d share some of the moments that stand out since I’ve been back and some frequently asked questions.
How was it?
– This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. How was what? After 2.5 years away, I’ve done a few things. There was the Peace Corps thing, the AfrikaBurn thing, and the travel around Asia thing among other things.
What are you doing/going to do now?
– Retire. Just kidding. I wish I could. I’m job searching and getting used to life in the city again.
How are you doing with readjustment?
– Eh. Like anything else in life, it varies with the day. Sometimes, it varies within the day. Overall, it’s good. As my uncle would say: “I’m living indoors and eating three meals a day, so I’m pretty good.”
Since I’ve been back, there are things I’ve noticed about the city and things I’ve noticed about myself.
As I was waiting for the bus to come in Northern Virginia, I overheard a lady talking on her phone. She was lamenting about the bus system here doesn’t display when the next bus will come like Seattle’s bus system. She continued that a website stated that the bus was five minutes late. I chuckled to myself as I remembered hoping that the bus (in eSwatini) would come some days. If it didn’t, try again tomorrow. Patience truly is a virtue.
A local DC friend, who currently lives in Thailand, was home visiting when I first returned. As we were catching up and hanging out, we shared a moment about water. We were talking about how amazing it is to have indoor plumbing. To be able to turn on a faucet and drink the water. Fantastic! No worrying about the sickness or death that could follow. It’s a great feeling.
The city is different, but familiar. There is a plethora of electric scooters available for rent around the city. Capital Bikeshare has added Plus bikes, which have electric pedal assist. They are really fast. Speaking of bikes, I’ve celebrated New Bike Day twice since my return. Riding on pavement and tarred roads is beyond awesome. One of my favorite restaurants in the city, Los Hermanos, is still on Park Road and it’s still wonderfully delicious. It was the only food I came back to the US desiring.
The photo above is a small group of RPCVs from G14 gathering for a birthday celebration. I am extremely thankful to have served with such supportive people.
Be kind to yourself.
P.S. – As a cyclist, one of the most important holidays is New Bike Day. Here’s a picture of my new ride (one of them):
P.P.S. – This series, “Monday in a Picture” will continue through the end of the year. After that, updates won’t be as frequent.
One of the hottest tickets in town is to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s the newest of the institution’s museums, having opened its doors in 2016. While I heavily anticipated the opening, I started for service a few months before the grand opening. The internet and friends shared some of the hype and hoopla with the museum first opening. The long lines. The massive visitation numbers. The quality of the museum itself. The forethought put into its curation. I knew that I had to go. I thought that I’d just be able to walk up and get in. Passes are still needed to get in, as the museum is still drawing very high numbers of visitors.
One of the ways to get tickets is from the daily release of same day, timed passes (which are released around 0630 EST). The passes are free, and they are usually claimed within ten to fifteen minutes of release. I woke up early and tried to get passes for several days, but the internet decided it wasn’t my time. One day last week, I woke up a bit later and decided to check the website for passes. Lo and behold, there were some available. I successfully claimed a pass, got dressed, and had breakfast before excitedly biking down to the museum.
It was suggested that I start on the lowest level and work my way up. This allows for following the journey chronologically. The exhibit begins with history of African kingdoms and royalty, and includes snippets of everyday life for many West Africans whose descendants would be enslaved. Along the walls and in the background of the exhibit were the details of several slave ships that crossed the Atlantic. The museum does an amazing job of telling the story of the African journey to America including a highlight of a vessel carrying captured people that shipwrecked off the coast of South Africa. Walking through the levels allows one to walk through history with several artifacts on display. As I approached the end of the chronological history, I shed a few tears. There was something special about seeing parts of my life and childhood highlighted in a museum. Something special about hearing Tupac as the musical backdrop to the 1990s display.
For lunch, there is the Sweet Home Cafe. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s very tasty. I had the shrimp and grits, and it was delicious. Going up to the second floor, there was an exhibit on hip hop culture and an interactive experience with call and response stepping. I spent most of the day (> 5 hours) at the museum and didn’t get to see it all. I definitely plan to return once I get more passes. The above photos were taken during my day at the museum.
Be kind to yourself.
One of the things that we were warned about before finishing service in eSwatini was the overwhelming-ness of the grocery store. American grocery stores are filled with stuff. Some stuff is slightly different from other stuff. Sometimes, the differences are so slight that it’s difficult to tell why all of the stuff exists. With an abundance of options, it can be difficult to make a decision.
Then, there are the prices. Shortly after arriving in eSwatini, I walked through Swazi grocery stores converting everything into US dollars. Now that I’m back in DC, my mind readily converts everything into emalangeni. I’m sure I’ll break the habit eventually, but initially, the sticker shock is real.
Recently, I was walking through a local grocery store and thought, “why are there so many kinds of Oreos?” Cold brew coffee is a big thing now. As a less than occasional coffee drinker, I was perplexed by all of the bottled cold brew coffee on offer in the store. The above picture is of most of the yogurt options. So much choice!
Be kind to yourself.
P.S. – I felt like Andy Rooney, on his closing 60 Minutes segment, as I walked through the grocery store. Many times, just wondering, “why?”.
P.P.S. – Walking through the grocery store pales in comparison to walking through Wal-Mart.
I’ve been back in the states for just over a week now. It’s been a week catching up with family and friends, coordinating events and schedules, and other stuff related to readjustment. As I’ve moved around the city, it’s familiar in a different way. Businesses I used to frequent have moved. Luxury and boutique apartment buildings dot the city’s streets. Electric scooters and electric-assist bikes help to move Washingtonians around the city.
One of the things that I looked forward to most when I was coming back was November Project. For those who don’t know, November Project is a free fitness movement that started in Boston in November of 2011. Tribes in cities all over the world meet every Wednesday morning between 6 and 6:30 am, no matter what. I knew that in a city full of transients and constant change, November Project DC would be there. At the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday morning. The only requirement: just show up. I knew that I’d be greeted by cheery faces, high fives and hugs. I was late getting to the workout on Wednesday morning and it was much colder than SE Asia. But the tribe always makes it worth the early rising.
I was reminded of how out of shape I am. I was also reminded of how encouraging a group of people can be. It’s good to be back. The above photo was taken by Matt at the start of Friday morning’s workout.
Be kind to yourself.
In August, I started on a route heading back to DC. I chose the scenic route. After starting in Mumbai, my only plan was to journey eastward. And to eat good food. After three months of experiencing the food, sights, and sounds of south and southeast Asia, I finished the journey east. On this past Saturday, I landed stateside. After two and half years, I’m back!
It was strange getting on the flight from Beijing to DC. A sort of “this is it” feeling. No more living out of my backpack. Back to familiar settings that don’t seem super familiar. I am excited to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in two years. We’ll see what the future has in store.
Be kind to yourself.
P.S. – I’d recommend the Mobile Passport app for free, expedited entry through US Customs at several approved sea and airports. It’s a cool alternative to Global Entry.